Government & Politics

State board decides against cannabis warning labels recommended by state medical society

James Pepper is chair of Vermont's Cannabis Control Board.

Correction: The original version of this article underplayed the warning labels suggested for cannabis products.

The Vermont Cannabis Control Board has decided not to recommend specific warning labels wanted by the Vermont Medical Society on the health effects of cannabis products, and James Pepper, the board chair, explained to VTDigger how the board made the decision.

The Vermont Medical Society urged the board and the Legislature this week to require warnings that cannabis and its main active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol — THC for short — may cause psychosis, impaired driving, addiction and harm to fetuses and nursing babies. 

Pepper said the board adopted the health warnings recommended by its public health subcommittee, made up of state Health Commissioner Mark Levine, retired Vermont State Police major Ingrid Jonas, and Brattleboro Selectboard member Tim Wessel.

The product label warnings recommended by the board say: “CONTAINS THC,” “NOT SAFE FOR KIDS” and “KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.”

In addition, Pepper said, branded products will have to carry a label warning: “KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN AND PETS. DO NOT USE IF BREAST FEEDING.” 

The warning on branded products will also say: “Cannabis can be habit forming and can impair concentration, coordination, and judgment. Persons 25 years and younger may be more likely to develop harm to the developing brain.”

Pepper said the subcommittee did not want to overload the labels. He pointed out that a safety flyer handed out with cannabis products will address health effects. He added that Act 164, the Vermont law that legalizes recreational cannabis, allocates up to $10 million annually for education and prevention. 

“There’s a lot more that can be done than just trying to pack a whole bunch of information on a tiny little label,” Pepper said.

The proposed label warnings were filed with the Interagency Committee on Administrative Rules, essentially the governor’s office, last month, but Pepper pointed out that the board will consider all comments filed during a public comment period.

“Just because we filed our rules doesn’t mean this is the end of the story,” Pepper said. 

Pepper said the Interagency Committee on Administrative Rules will provide initial comments to the board, and then the board will file the rules with the Secretary of State’s Office, which will trigger the official public comment period. After the comment period, the Legislature will take a look at the rules and the public comments and responses from the board and make sure that the rules are in line with the Legislature’s intent when it legalized recreational cannabis.

Vermont has legalized the sale of cannabis for adult use starting in October. Medical use is already legal. 

The Vermont Medical Society also recommended that the board and the Legislature ban products that contain more than 15% THC.

Pepper said that recommendation would go against the stated purpose of cannabis legalization, which is to replace the illegal market. 

“In order to do that, we have to provide the products that the illegal market is supplying,” Pepper said. “To think that people that are growing for the illicit market are trying to cap their THC at 15 percent ... it’s just not a product that’s prevalent on the illicit market and therefore I think it’s important for the board to recognize that.”

The Legislature has already capped THC content for cannabis flower at 30 percent. 

“There is kind of a natural cap of about 30 percent,” Pepper said. “You really have to go out of your way to — and have some intensive growing practices to — grow a cannabis flower above 30 percent THC.”

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Fred Thys

About Fred

Fred Thys covers business and the economy for VTDigger. He is originally from Bethesda, Maryland, and graduated from Williams College with a degree in political science. He is the recipient of the Radio, Television, and Digital News Association's Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting and for Enterprise Reporting. Fred has worked at The Journal of Commerce, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News, and WBUR, and has written for Le Matin, The Dallas Morning News, and The American Homefront Project.


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